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Molenbeek marks anniversary of attacks with community cohesion

22:52 21/03/2017
Concert promotes unity in diversity, while new inclusive cafe prepares to open to the community on 22 March

An interfaith concert and the opening of a new community cafe are among the ways Molenbeek will be marking the first anniversary of the 22 March terror attacks.

The borough took a bashing after the Paris and Brussels attacks but is now blossoming with new initiatives. The idea behind the concert, in Saint John the Baptist Church, is "to let citizens of Brussels sing together as a testimony of cohesion and their support for all the victims", concertmaster Dirk Seghers told The Bulletin. "The main thing for this event is to show unity in diversity."

For the most part, the performers are not professionals but dedicated amateurs. Rayan, a Molenbeek youngster who developed his talents through a local youth club will sing his version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. A group of women from the Dar Al Amal women's house will preform both Christian and Islamic music. Voces Desuper, a professional choir and the official choir of the Brussels Cathedral, will sing 20th century sacred and sacred-inspired music, and choir Al-Wassîla, part of a Sufi brotherhood will sing authentic Sufi songs.

"Tatyana Donets, the leader of Voces Desuper, is of Belgian-Ukranian origins and the Sufi brothers are of Moroccan origins but they have been living all their lives in Brussels," says Seghers. "The origins might be mixed but they are all citizens of Brussels."

The concert is organised by Le Foyer, the first organisation in Molenbeek to work on the integration of people with foreign ethnic origins. "They have been doing this very successfully for over 30 years," Seghers adds. "This sort of work only succeeds in the long term and over the years they have created a lot of effective practices and they are exemplary in many ways."

'Shine a positive light on Molenbeek'

Close by, on Molenbeek's main square, opening the same day the concert is taking place, is Brass'Art Digitaal Café. This project is making a community asset out of three buildings, two of which have notorious pasts - one was the site where a slum landlord exploited destitute people and another was the residence of the Abdeslam brothers.

There will be three spaces, a brewery café, called Brass'Art, where people can hang out, drink something and listen to music or enjoy a performance, Ranc'Art which will be a space for meeting and discussing, and Débrouill'Art which will be a space for training workshops (rancart being the French word for a date, and a débrouillard being a resourceful person).

"We want Brass'Art to shine a positive light on Molenbeek and be inclusive of all," says Sanae Jamaï, co-founder with Mohamed Ouachen. "That's why there will be both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available. Place Communale is a very active place with a weekly market that attracts people from near and far but they don't necessarily mix.

"Brass'Art is for everyone. It's not a corporate space, it's a citizen space. If someone wants to organise something they just call us and book a space and we provide the tools they need."

Mohamed Ouachen is a Brussels-based performer and cultural event organiser and with the help of Diversités sur Scène, a group of involved performers, he is dedicated to making sure that the café will be a cultural asset with jam sessions, concerts, improv competitions, screening, poetry and debates.

A successful crowdfunding operation has provided with the necessary funds to get the centre open but the crowdfunder is still in process to raise funding for further phases. Each category of gift awards the giver with various advantages in the use of the facilities. Anyone interested is heartily invited to the opening on 22 March at 19.00.

Written by Richard Harris